8 OF AMERICA’S UNDERRATED THRU-HIKING TRAILS

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No matter how appealing the escape of a 6-month thru-hike may be, a 2,000-mile trek remains a pipe dream for most people. The time and money needed, plus the crowds on America’s popular long-distance trails are dealbreakers for many potential thru-hikers. While we love the classics—the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail—as much as the next person, there are more long-distance trails in the US than most avid hikers can conceivably complete in a lifetime (and most you probably haven’t heard of!).

1. UINTA HIGHLINE TRAIL, UTAH

Distance: 83 miles

Best For: Experienced hikers looking to get up in elevation and escape crowds

Description: This trail’s moniker is appropriate—hikers rarely dip below 10,000 feet once you get to the ridgeline in the High Uintas Wilderness. Abundant wildlife includes elk, coyote, deer, and mountain goats, so be prepared to add hours onto your day to stop and admire the herds. High elevation (expect to summit peaks over 13,000 feet) comes with obvious risks, including challenging terrain, exposure, and very remote areas.

2. BOUNDARY TRAIL, WASHINGTON

Distance: 80 miles

Best For: Hikers looking to complete one of the best sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail

Description: This lovely section of the PNW is a bucket-list hike in its own right. Crossing the stunning Pasayten Wilderness, the Boundary Trail is mile upon mile of incredible alpine beauty. If you have the time and motivation, hikers on this trail can’t go wrong taking side trails to summit nearby peaks. The trail is well-maintained, well-marked, and water is plentiful.

3. BARTRAM TRAIL, NORTH CAROLINA/GEORGIA

Distance: 116 miles

Best For: Hikers looking for a classic sample of the Appalachian Trail’s southernmost region, but without the crowds

Description: While NOBO Appalachian Trail hikers hit Georgia and North Carolina at the tail end of winter, thru-hikers on the Bartram Traildon’t have to fight the ice and frost. Aim for this rugged traverse at any point in mid-spring to get the best weather. Enjoy steep climbs and descents, side trails to incredible views, and a stop in Franklin, North Carolina (a classic trail town). There are also several great shorter loop options for this trail if you don’t feel like shuttling.

4. BIGFOOT TRAIL, CALIFORNIA

Distance: 360 miles

Best For: Experienced hikers looking for a wooded hike through California wilderness with a brief intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail

Description: You might not find Bigfoot (sorry), but you will see 32 different species of conifers, wander through the old-growth forests of California, and take a brief foray into Oregon. You’ll traverse open ridgelines, dense forests, pass through wilderness areas, a national park, national forests, and spend time on seldom-used Forest Service roads. Proficiency with a map and compass is important to navigate this trail, which is remote and has some unmaintained sections.

5. COHOS TRAIL, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Distance: 170 miles

Best For: Experienced hikers looking to traverse New Hampshire’s rugged beauty all the way to the Canadian border

Description: If you thought wilderness was limited to the expanses of the American West, think again. This remote, rugged region of New Hampshire will test the most experienced hiker, but the payoffs are huge. Hikers start at the southern terminus—the popular Crawford Notch—and quickly lose the crowds as you head north towards the Canadian border. The trail summits 40 peaks, crosses open cliffs, and winds through the wildest parts of New England. New Hampshire’s summits are exposed and known for unpredictable weather, so come prepared for anything.

6. SHELTOWEE TRACE NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL, KENTUCKY

Distance: 319 miles

Best For: Hikers of all abilities looking for a peaceful, scenic trail with moderate terrain and lower elevation

Description: Long-distance hiking in Kentucky? Yep, and it’s prime for hikers of all abilities. This trail stays below 2,000 feet with few climbs gaining over 500 feet at a time. There’s no shortage of creek crossings, waterfalls, and the peace that comes with hiking through the forest. The trail is well-marked, and it’s pretty much accessible year-round thanks to location and elevation. There is an active trail association to aid with resupplies, as well as road crossings to hitch into town, which makes this an ideal trail to get comfortable with the idea of thru-hiking.

7. SUPERIOR HIKING TRAIL, MINNESOTA

Distance: 260-310 miles

Best For: Hikers looking for a challenging hike that stays at a lower elevation

Description: The Superior Hiking Trail Association recognizes two distances for thru-hiking this Minnesota gem. The shorter of the two (260 miles) begins north of Duluth, and the full version takes hikers through Duluth (310 miles). Camping is prohibited through the Duluth section, hence the two designations. This trail traverses above Lake Superior, and is chock-full of ascents and descents, and despite the low elevation (never cresting 2,000 feet) the terrain can be difficult. One thing you will never be on this trail is bored—you’ll follow rushing creeks and frequently pass scenic waterfalls.

8. PINHOTI TRAIL, ALABAMA/GEORGIA

Distance: 338.5 miles

Best For: Hikers looking for a trail rich in history, with moderate terrain and forgiving weather

Description: This trail travels through two wilderness areas, but in a relatively populated area, so while it feels remote, hikers are never far from a road crossing. The trail opens early in the season and is accessible beginning in March. Despite its little-known status, there are a dozen or more shelters along the trail in Alabama and easy exits to resupply in towns. Plan to climb mountains, but also spend a lot of time in the woods on moderate terrain.

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